Friday, June 26, 2009

Former Wide Receiver Sues Cleveland Clinic and the Browns

Joe Jurevicius has filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the Cleveland Clinic and the Browns' team doctors. Jurevicius was one of seven former Browns to have contracted a serious MRSA (methicillin resistant staphyloccocus aureus) infection while playing for the team over the past three years. Last January, Jurevicius underwent what was supposed to be a routine arthroscopic knee surgery to clean out some loose cartilage. He developed fevers/chills and redness of the knee. A joint infection was diagnosed and he had to undergo six subsequent "washout" operations to clear up the problem. He ended up missing the entire 2008 season. This past March the new Browns management terminated his contract (saving the club $2.4 million).

In the suit, Jurevicius alleges that he contracted the infection because "the Browns did not sterilize their Berea training facility properly and that the medical personnel, including the Clinic doctors, failed to warn him they weren't taking proper precautions" (from Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer). I'm not sure how one is supposed to "sterilize" a weight room and other training facilities used by sweaty, gargantuan professional football players, but that's the beside the point.

This lawsuit isn't necessarily about negligence. What it represents is the known discordance between poor medical outcomes and the likelihood of the doctor being sued. (Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in Blink.) The overwhelming majority of patients who sustain injury from medical malpractice or negligence do not sue their doctors. The mitigating factor in whether a lawsuit is brought often ends up being the status of the patient/physician relationship. If the patient feels her doctor is lying or withholding information or otherwise betraying the trust that serves as the foundation of the relationship, then she is more apt to seek justice in a courtroom.

The past couple of years have been a public relations nightmare for the Browns, problems that go beyond their pitiful performance on the field. And they haven't done much to rectify the perception that player welfare and safety is not a major team concern. Seven major staph infections is certainly worrisome in and of itself. But there's more. Kellen Winslow alleges that doctors told him that his first staph infection was his own fault (for putting too much vitamin E ointment on the wound). He was then told by management to keep his second staph infection quiet. When he went off the reservation and ranted to the media about it, he was subsequently suspended and fined by the team (only to have the punishments rescinded once all the details came out). LeCharles Bentley almost had his leg amputated from a severe MRSA infection. He ended going to a different facility for his final operation (a fact that did not sit well with the organization).

Given this apparent antagonistic and secretive stance the team has adopted over the years, is it any wonder that we're finally seeing litigation brought by a Browns player? Joe Jurevicius is a local boy from Mentor, Ohio. He's wanted to play for the Browns since he was a kid. He's made millions of dollars during a long, successful career as a professional football player. He isn't doing this for the money. (The lawsuit is only for 25 grand and lawyers fees, plus punitive damages.) After missing all of last year, the team decides to cut him in the offseason to save themselves two and half million bucks. This is akin to a general surgeon deciding that he won't take the insurance of a patient who has sustained a major common duct injury after a laparoscopic cholecystectomy and is now demanding to be remunerated in cash. You can't treat people like animals, even megamillionaire professional athletes. Perception is everything in malpractice. Hopefully the Mangini regime will use this controversy as a lesson....


Anonymous said...

Hey Buckeye, The lawsuit is for a lot more than $25K. It's says damages "in excess of $25K" which is required by the law, which was amended to prohibit money amounts in complaints. Now they all just say "in exess of 25K".

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:53 AM:

hopefully Buckeye will never find that out for himself.

radinc said...

Yeah, he's definitely doing it for the money. But he probably deserves it. Instead of facing things head on and getting the staph situation under control, the Browns chose to cover it up instead.

How much would a course of intra-nasal mupirocin for everybody and a couple containers antibacterial wash for the showers cost?

They could have hired some ID consultants and got that situation under control. This is really an employee vs. employer suit as well.


Jeffrey Parks MD FACS said...

Yeah, you guys are probably right; no doubt the money is playing a role (to the tune of 2.5 mill buckeroos). But I do believe the lawsuit arises moreso out of the Browns' adversarial stance (telling K2 to shut up about his infection, cutting JoeJ, etc).